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“The Importance of Champions, Striving for that Spark & The Barriers and Biases Female Playwrights and Directors Continue to Surmount” In Conversation with Ali Joy Richardson on Writing and Directing A BEAR AWAKE IN WINTER at Next Stage 2019

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Ali Joy Richardson, the playwright and director of A Bear Awake in Winter, a new play premiering at the Next Stage Festival from January 10-20, is no stranger to the Toronto Fringe. For many years, the summer festival has provided what she considers a “perfect sandbox” for her personal projects. This year, however, with a show that’s larger in scale (a cast of seven, a runtime of 75 minutes, plenty of instruments) she’s ready to take on a new challenge. Next Stage is a step up in more ways than one; it’s also her first time being both writer and director of a show.

With inspiration drawn from plays like The Wolves and Concord Floral, this funny but dark play follows a high school band class in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in 2007, taking a sharp look at bullying and the high stakes of adolescence.

We got to talk with Richardson, who’s only five years out of theatre school, about owning her roles as director and playwright, her creative opportunities thus far, and how the #MeToo movement inspired her new show.

MR: What was it for you that allowed you take yourself seriously as a writer in the last year? Was it a particular moment or a conversation with a friend? What did that look like? 

AJR: Directing aligned very quickly with the part of me that is organized and responsible and I approached the role of director in a very nurturing way. But I have this internalized notion that the role of the writer is kind of wild and dynamic and that there’s a sort of wildly creative side to the person generating the words and the world. It took me a really long time to believe that people would take me seriously in saying that I am both of those things. And all of that can exist in one woman, and especially a young woman.

The internal conflict for me was: am I allowed to be both? Can I be the person with the sticky notes and the highlighter who knows what time everyone needs to be where and be the one writing really good jokes?

MR: So you felt capable of doing both and ready to do both, but it was more of an external thing of how people would receive you?

AJR: Yeah. I thought one would dilute the other in someone else’s eyes. So for me, a really big turning point was getting into Nightwood’s Write From the Hip Unit. That was major. And I did a residency with Canadian Stage, as well. I was in their 2018 RBC Emerging Artists Program and their Director Development Residency. I got into that as a director and then about halfway through I was like, “Hey, can I work on something that is my own play?” And the two women running the programs, Lynanne Sparrow and Taliesin McEnaney, right away were like, “Absolutely. We picked you for you. So whatever you want to do, we are excited about.” So that was huge. To get that green light from Nightwood and from the folks who were supporting me at Canadian Stage, who obviously saw all parts of me and welcomed all parts of me and started to build my courage to do both.

MR: That makes me wonder about people who don’t get that green light from others. How do they generate that sense of validation?

AJR: I mean I totally agree with you, and I think it speaks to the importance of diversity within those leadership roles, within organizations, so there is someone to green light the person that they see themselves in. Because I think it’s human nature that we will always champion people who make us think of ourselves. For better and for worse. And so I was really lucky to cross paths with people who I suppose I had a kind of kinship with in those roles.

MR: I think we can say that things are shifting. Even that opportunity, I wonder if even five years ago you would have had it. Where do you see those shifts happening?

AJR: I mean, this is a well-known example, I was really inspired seeing Kat Sandler directing her own work on some of the major stages this year. Seeing her play Bang Bang at Factory, I sat in the front row and I must have looked wild to the actors on stage. I was grinning so hugely. But with every beat of that show, this little barometer of courage was rising in me. That was huge.

I graduated from theatre school five years ago and during that time, I’ve been working Front of House at Theatre Passe Muraille, where D’bi Young had a show a couple of years ago. She is another person that continuously breaks out of every mould that I find myself internalizing. She is also a constant reminder for me that an artist can be many, many things.

MR: Okay, so some people have opened doors to you, and I’m curious what doors you see that are still closed that you wished were open? 

AJR: I think the myth about directing your own work has got to go. I think we need to trust that artists know when they should be in both of those roles in a room, and to give people that agency to know themselves and know their work. I don’t think every show will be served by this but I think many will be and I think that people sometimes mistake it for a lack of trust in other creators.

MR: Particularly as a female playwright, what sort of limitations have you been working to push past?

AJR: I think comedy. I love comedy and it’s a thing in all of my work. I think we trust men much quicker as someone who understands what is funny in a room – as directors, writers and actors. I watch other women have to fight tooth-and-nail to be trusted in comedy. So, particularly as writers, I think that’s a big one.

I’ve also had some great conversations with Michaela Di Cesare, a celebrated playwright from Montreal who plays the character Flute (the young woman at the centre of the story). We talk a lot about the double-edged sword women have to dodge about whether or not your writing is inspired by your own life. If a man writes something from his own life it is seen as interesting and valid and if he writes fiction it is seen as interesting and valid but we haven’t sorted that out yet when it comes to women writers. For women, I feel like it is still a lose-lose situation, where if it is inspired from life they dismiss it as not really writing, but they also make that constant assumption about the work.

In Photo: Andy Trithardt, Hershel Blatt, Natasha Ramondino, Andrew Di Rosa, Bria McLaughlin, Danny Pagett, Photographer: Neil Silcox

MR: Your show is influenced partly by your life though right? Your experiences in band and in that community? 

AJR: Yes, every puzzle piece of this show absolutely comes from my life, but the finished puzzle is not a true story.

MR: Let’s talk about the writing of it. Did you always know you wanted to write this show? 

AJR: So I was writing a play over the last year called Fool, during my time at Nightwood. Fool is set in medieval times, and this is the play I cheated on Fool with (I think a lot of writers do that). There was one night where I was feeling constrained by the rules of the world I was writing in and I just really wanted to hang out with people I knew.

The first scene of the show, which is a classroom scene, is the first scene I wrote. It was late at night and I just started writing the voices of these kids because they are so familiar to me. They are me and they are my friends from home and they are my sister. The voices came right away. They started talking and they didn’t stop. And I know it’s such a cliché. This is the first time in my life that I actually felt that cliché, which I’ve always kind of rolled my eyes at, but I really felt it on this play. So there’s a violent conflict midway through the play, and I wrote up to that moment of violence. That came in a rush, and then I hung out there for a while, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. It was really interesting because I wrote up to that point about a week before the #MeToo hashtag happened, and then the second half came quite quickly after that dialogue had started. 

MR: What brought you to write that violent act?

AJR: For me, that moment has always been a sort of provocation for the audience. Especially right now, I think we are asked to empathize with men who misread situations and act in a regrettable way and I’m really interested in finding out what happens if a woman reads a situation and reacts a certain way, will the audience feel that her reaction was out of proportion in some way, or will they extend that same empathy to her?

MR: Sometimes we write things to reframe experiences or live out a fantasy or an idea of a situation, and I don’t want to put that on you, but I am curious to know whether there is an element of that in this.

AJR: In this, that moment of violence came from frustration. People in my life responded to my frustration with cat-calling, or men following me at night, by saying I should just punch them or kick them in the balls or tell him to fuck off, as if those are accessible and easy solutions that aren’t going to come with a whole other world of troubles. I started to wonder what would happen if the next time I felt afraid I did just hit back in a big way? I don’t think that would go well for me in this world. It was also around the time I started to take boxing classes, and something about that started to cook in my head. As I learned to hit someone safely, I started to wonder what would happen if someone did fight back, in a moment of feeling a threat. So it’s certainly not a personal fantasy, but it was a kind of obsessive thought experiment.

In Photo: Natasha Ramondino, Bria McLaughlin, Hershel Blatt, Andrew Di Rosa, Andy Trithardt, Danny Pagett. Photographer: Neil Silcox

MR: Can we talk about supporting yourself in the arts in Toronto, and just like, how you do it? How do you do the job of a director and playwright here? Because you seem to be doing a lot! 

AJR: So first, I will say, I’m enormously privileged to come from a family who has means and who is there if I need them. I don’t rely on that support but, as an artist, knowing it’s there and to have that is an enormous privilege in terms of managing my mental health. Just knowing there is a safety net there if you needed it. I think it’s important to be honest about that.

MR: Do you think you’d be a playwright if you didn’t have that safety net? 

AJR: That’s a really good question and it keeps me up at night. I have a little fear in me about that. I don’t know the answer. Of course I want to think I would be but I also hold myself to a really rigorous standard around that. My life would definitely look different, I think.

MR: I do just want to say that the arts are so valuable, you know? And I don’t think there should be any weird guilt or shame around it, you know if you’re like, “I’m doing this just because I can” I just think, “Well thank God somebody can.” I just want to say that. 

AJR: (Laughs) Thank you. And like every artist I’ve worked a million different jobs, and done many strange gigs from standardized patient work to working for a nannying agency. So I’ve had a plethora of different side hustles. And finding ones that didn’t drain the life force I need to make art, that was key for me. It might not give you a mountain of joy but it can’t suck out the thing you need to make your art.

MR: What keeps you motivated? 

AJR: The feeling I have when I see or read something that makes me go “Oh my god, I didn’t know someone else knew that or felt that”. That spark, every time that happens, makes me want to put stuff like that out in the world.

Also, I come from a family of really, really hardworking people, none of whom are in the arts. And honestly, when I hear my sister talking about training to do an Ironman, I’m like, “you know, I can probably get up at six and write a few more pages.”

A Bear Awake in Winter

at the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival

In Photo: Andrew Di Rosa, Michaela Di Cesare
Photographer: Tanja Tiziana

Playwright & Director: Ali Joy Richardson
Cast: Michaela Di Cesare, Andy Trithardt, Andrew Di Rosa, Bria McLaughlin, Danny Pagett, Natasha Ramondino, Hershel Blatt
Assistant Director: Bryn Kennedy
Stage Manager: Lucy McPhee
Sound Designer: Neil Silcox
Lighting Designer: Steph Raposo
Producers: Ali Joy Richardson & Bryn Kennedy

2007. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. A high school band class. A new teacher from Toronto wants to be an inspiration to his jaded students but is afraid to come out to them. A boy bullies a girl in insidious ways until she takes matters into her own hands. An act of violence at a school dance fractures the community. This is a dark, funny, and difficult story about the fight to stand up for yourself.

FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE, 125 Bathurst St, Toronto

Jan 11 – 9:45pm
Jan 12 – 3:45pm
Jan 13 – 1:30pm
Jan 15 – 8:45pm
Jan 16 – 12pm
Jan 18 – 7:30pm
Jan 19 – 5:45pm
Jan 20 – 7:30pm

75 Minutes





“Freelancing, Finding Balance in Collaboration & Taking Ownership in Creating Opportunities” In Conversation with Annie Clarke and Emma Westray on Co-Producing CANNIBAL by Thom Nyhuus at Next Stage 2019

Interview by Brittany Kay.

Producers are some of the hardest working people in our business. What they lack in sleep, they gain in the never-ending pursuit of fully realizing a production.

Both Annie Clarke and Emma Westray are two producers who are no strangers to our theatre community. They have been part of such incredible shows and projects in the last year and they’re only gaining momentum. Their next play, Cannibal by Thom Nyhuus, is part of this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival. We chat about what it’s like to be female producers, the balance and strength they find in collaboration and how they are able to prioritize stories about women. (Thank you for your tireless efforts to make sure the work gets seen. You are truly wonder women) 

Brittany Kay: Women have been at the forefront of today’s theatre scene. What has it been like to be female producers amongst the current theatrical climate? Do you find yourselves wanting to work with certain companies?

Annie Clarke: Most of the producing I’ve done for theatre – beyond just one-night-only events – has happened in the past year, so in a way I feel like my only producing experience is in the context of this climate. I think a big thing that it means is that I don’t need to explain my interest in, and prioritization of, women’s stories. But of course if it’s easier than ever to have that focus, it also means that we are standing on the shoulders of so many women who have fought for space for our voices on the stage (and off it), so I have a lot of gratitude for those who have paved the way for where we are right now. I definitely gravitate towards artists and companies who share those priorities, both in the work that I do and the work that I pay to see.

Emma Westray: I think the conversations that are continuing in our community about women in theatre and representation in theatre have forced me to reflect on my responsibilities as a producer, specifically in the role of hiring artists and putting together a team at the early stages. Sometimes working at the independent level, it can feel like you don’t have the power or resources to change the culture at large, but I’ve realized that every project I work on is an opportunity to set an example for my peers. Every time I work with collaborators to create a safe and respectful work environment, and every time I make a thoughtful effort to hire a diverse, representative team of artists, it shows audiences and peers alike that it is possible and it is necessary. I love being a producer because it gives me the chance to give opportunities, not only to women, but also to BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folx, and other marginalized artists, and now more than ever my priority is to work with companies who are like-minded in this regard.

Photo of Justine Christensen, Michael Ayres by Haley Garnett

BK: Do you find the project or does the project find you? How do you know which projects are the right ones and who/what is worth your energy to invest in? 

AC: I feel very lucky because I have not really “applied” for any of the producing work that I’ve done – it’s come to me through relationships I’ve built. From what I hear from my peers, that’s not uncommon, and I think it just comes from a place of knowing that no one is it in for the money, very often we’re in it for the people, so if we know people who are as passionate as we are and will work as hard as we will, that’s who we end up asking to come on board a project. Every project is a passion project in indie theatre, right? That being said, it took me years to build the network and knowledge of the indie community in Toronto that has enabled me to work as a producer. And I was, and am, very privileged to have been able to devote a lot of time to unpaid work, volunteer work and just general network-building when I first moved to Toronto three years ago.

In terms of deciding which projects to take on, I think I’m still learning about that. I’m definitely still learning what my capacity is. I feel like I say no to things and yet I also constantly feel like I’m too busy to function, so surely there’s a balance to figure out there! The projects I’ve worked on have mainly been motivated by the people involved, but I don’t think you’re going to do a good job producing a play if you don’t genuinely love – let alone like – it. Things I’ve thought about in the past when projects have come up have been: do I love this script? Will I get to work with people I’ve been wanting to work with? Will I be able to learn a lot from a mentor (e.g. Assistant Producing)? Will I be able to stretch my limits and do things I haven’t been able to do before?

EW: I have been fortunate enough to have all of my producing work thus far come to me from the incredible network of people I have met since moving to Toronto nearly 5 years ago. There is something interesting in the way that projects find their way to you when you’re the right fit. Whether it’s something you’ve always wanted to work on, or peers that you’re excited to collaborate with, I’ve learned that trusting my gut when a project feels like it “clicks” is the best way for me to know that I should pursue the opportunity. I am fortunate enough to be a graduate of Generator’s Artist Producer Training program, which has linked me to a group of alumni who are always hearing about and sharing producing opportunities. For this, I am very grateful!

There isn’t really a science to how I choose projects. That buzzing excitement you feel when you sit down with an artist for the first time and hear them explain an idea, or you read a first draft of a script, is how I know that I want to be a part of the team. Conversely, I can say that the few times that I have worked on a project because I thought I should, despite not feeling connected to it, are the times where I found myself not doing my best work and just getting it done because it was a job. Knowing that difference has helped guide me in choosing what I take on as a producer, and it has helped me build a resume of work that I am truly proud of. I choose the passion project that could take years to develop instead of the remount of a classic play everyone has seen before.

Photo of Annie Clarke, Thom Nyhuus & Emma Westray

BK: What has it been like working together? 

AC: I have been fan-girl-ing Emma for the past year, and I have been delighted to find that working with her is even more wonderful than admiring her from afar. We joke that we have been co-parenting Cannibal – I was knee-deep in another show, What I call her, in the fall, so Emma was taking the lead, and then I took over when she went to Europe for three weeks (although she did far more work from Europe than one would have thought possible, probably because she is a real-life superhero), and now we are inching towards the finish line together. It’s been kind of like a months-long game of hot potato. Honestly it’s made me think I should never produce alone again. Just having someone to bounce ideas off of, share panic with, and remind you not to work yourself into the ground, is more valuable than I could have dreamed of.

EW: The amount that we had interacted on social media as a myriad of different theatre companies over the years made it kind of laughable that we weren’t acquaintances in real life. Annie has claimed several times that working together was a way for her to learn more about producing from me, but I am constantly in awe of her leadership and vision for this project. I am a big fan of producing partnerships, and Annie and I fell into a rhythm very early that made it easy to share the role. There is something about a female partnership that feels particularly comfortable in that there has been empathy and compassion built into every stage of this process. Not to say that isn’t possible outside of working with women, but it felt as though it was a given that there would be support and encouragement not because there had to be, but because we cared enough to take care of each other while taking care of the rest of our team. It has been a dreamy process and I would do it again in a heartbeat! 

BK: What has it been like working with an all female creative team? Was the assembly of this creative team a conscious choice?

AC: My personal mandate is to work on stories that put women at the forefront. I also am in love with working with women. Can’t get enough of it. One of the great things about being a producer, depending on what stage in the process you come on board, is the ability to put a team together. Deciding whose voices you’re showcasing, how you’re showcasing them, who’s sitting at the table – that is some kind of power, even when you’re talking about a teeny tiny indie show. I know that at this stage in my career it won’t be possible to be in that level of driver’s seat for every project, but I am so proud of the team we assembled for Cannibal. As Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (our director) puts so eloquently, “I love competent people!”

EW: I don’t think anyone in my life would have a hard time telling you that feminism is a driving force of my personality, and also my work. I prioritize creating opportunities for women, but I also think that we are spoiled in our Toronto theatre community with talented women in all kinds of roles, so it wasn’t difficult hiring women to fill so many of the positions on our team. It had already been decided when I joined the team that the director would be a woman. Beyond that, the priority was, and always is, to build a team that can service the needs of the script and the director’s vision, and in this case our director Courtney was able to communicate her ideas to Cosette [Pin] and Julia [Kim] and they understood and wanted to join in bringing that vision to life. We also had two female stage managers (Lucy McPhee and Julia Vodarek Hunter) who were able to work together, and with Courtney, to create a safe and welcoming rehearsal room for our actors. It’s exciting to hire these women not only to give them the platform to share their skills and talents, but to give them a chance to collaborate with each other.

Left to right: Joella Crichton, Michael Ayres, Justine Christensen, Thom Nyhuus. Photo by Haley Garnett.

BK: What has it been like working with a male playwright on a play that has a predominantly female POV?

AC: Thom Nyhuus, the playwright, is an absolute dream collaborator – he is so open to feedback and perspectives that differ from his own, and yet he has such a clear vision for the play. In addition to the work he did with our dramaturg, Paolo Santalucia, he also spent a lot of time working on the script with Justine Christensen, who plays Bridget, over the spring and summer, before we started rehearsals. The intention was always to have a woman director, and I still can’t believe that Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster said yes, but we are beyond lucky to have her. We wanted her voice not only in the room, but shaping the room, and she has done the most beautiful job throughout the entire process.

EW: I would also add that when talking about #MeToo, and how we move forward in order to give women a platform to speak and share their stories, that there is also a conversation about what role men will play in pursuing equality. In the same way that we talk about men needing to be allies and how they need to work alongside us to make equality a reality. It was refreshing reading Cannibal knowing that it was Thom’s first play and discovering a female-driven plot featuring two complicated, yet very different, female characters. Bridget Walker is in every scene and the story is hers. I think having male playwrights who want to write interesting stories that feature women, women who are recognizable in their intricacies and flaws, is valuable in the pursuit for more female representation. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities that come from artistic collaborations where artists are open to hearing feedback and learning about one another in order to craft the best story.

Photo of Justine Christensen by Haley Garnett.

BK: You are both freelance producers with multiple jobs on the go like so many of us. What are the ways you manage your time and properly prioritize each project so that they equally get the proper attention? 

AC: I would say that I’m still aspiring to properly prioritize each project so that they each get the attention they deserve. Basically for the past year I have felt like I’ve been in triage mode, so it’s been about which deadline is the most pressing, which fire needs putting out today. I do a lot of planning out my time in detail (iCal is my best friend), but then inevitably things come up and some things just end up landing at the bottom of the priority list. One thing I’ve tried to do is to identify when each project gets to be priority number one (I tend to think of this in terms of, what does my number one focus have to be this month? What about next month?) When Thom and I found out we got into Next Stage, I was absolutely thrilled, but then a new contract came my way in August and I knew that I was over-capacity, which is where Emma came in! There is no way we could have done this show without an Associate Producer, and I am unbelievably grateful to her for her patience and her willingness to give us her time because, like so many of us, it is in seriously short supply.

EW: I definitely wouldn’t claim to be an expert in time management! I am fairly new to being able to consistently work as a freelancer, so I’m still learning how best to manage the different projects I’m working on in order to be productive, but also so I can avoid burning out. My best tip would be to take the time for yourself to look at each of your projects at a distance, by which I mean zooming out and creating a plan from start to finish so that you can identify what you’ll need to do, when you’ll need to do it, and when it needs to be your priority. I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned recently is being honest with myself when I’m in over my head and addressing it before it becomes a major issue. In the arts sector, we’re aware that everyone is making do with the few resources they have, so it can be hard to admit to the people you’re working with that you need more: more time, more funding, more access, more support. The thing is, if you don’t ask for what you need, no one will know that they should be trying to give it to you. It seems simple, but it’s been a huge game changer for me! Any good collaborator will do what they can to make adjustments so that you can be productive instead of feeling overwhelmed.

BK: Any advice for upcoming producers? 

AC: Know what kind of theatre you want to be a part of putting into the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it right every time, or that every project will be birthed into the world exhibiting the beautiful intentions with which it was conceived, but you have to know what you care about. Also: talk to other producers and theatre makers. Read programs, and figure out who’s doing work you love. Send your programs to the Toronto Theatre Database so that we can all help make that resource as rich as possible! See theatre. And get training. I work at Generator so this is me disclosing my bias, but they have incredible workshops geared towards producers throughout the year, as well as an annual Artist Producer Training program. When I first moved to Toronto I was pretty sure it was to act and do nothing else, so I am very grateful to programs like Nightwood Theatre’s Young Innovators and Toronto Fringe’s TENT (Theatre Entrepreneurs Networking and Training) program for opening my eyes to what else was out there, and how I could use my other skills to make theatre.

EW: I think the best thing about producing, but also the most frustrating thing when you’re first starting out, is that there is no one way to produce. For the longest time, I felt like if someone would just send me their blueprint for producing, it wouldn’t feel like such a big task every time I started something new. The more experience you get, and the more you interact with different artists and collaborators, the better you’ll be at knowing how to identify and provide what a project needs. This goes for pretty much anything you’re interested in pursuing, reach out to people doing work that you are interested in and ask if you can take them for coffee. Finding mentors can be hard, but it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself and your career.

Photo of Emma Westray and Annie Clarke by Haley Garnett.

BK: Why should we come and see your show? 

AC: Cannibal is a very, very good play. It is sharp, surprising, thrilling, and utterly unexpected. Thom says that, with Scrap Paper Theatre, he wants to make plays that his brothers won’t sleep through. As someone whose own brother gave up on theatre after seeing me in a very ill-advised one act in 2006, I can really get behind that. And yet, for all of its watchability, Cannibal does not sacrifice depth. I’m really interested in what it’s exploring about womanhood, intimacy, motherhood, love, debt, and what happens when we make art out of life.

EW: There is something about Cannibal that sneaks up on you. It happened when I first read the script last year, and it has happened every time I’ve seen it since. It is not what it appears to be, or at least, it is much more than it appears to be. I love complicated, unraveling, imperfect women and this play delivers one in Bridget Walker, and another in her best friend Liza. I love Thom’s writing, and my favourite part of the script is the depiction of female friendship. It doesn’t have a pink, frilly ribbon tied around it – it’s messy and raw, and it is the core of the emotional relationships, despite the presence of romantic relationships in Bridget’s life.


At the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival

Photo of Justine Christensen by Tanja Tiziana

Company: Scrap Paper Theatre
Playwright: Thom Nyhuus
Director: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Producers: Annie Clarke & Emma Westray
Cast: Michael Ayres, Justine Christensen, Joella Crichton, Thom Nyhuus
Dramaturg: Paolo Santalucia
Sound & Lighting Designer: Cosette Pin
Set & Prop & Costume Designer: Julia Kim
Stage Managers: Lucy McPhee (Rehearsal), Julia Vodarek Hunter
Intimacy & Fight Choreographer: Scott Emerson Moyle

When you survive the unsurvivable, who do you become? Bridget Walker has written a play about the abduction of her son and it’s a smash hit. Critics are raving, but those closest to her are sent reeling. ‘Cannibal’ explores grief, the cost of sharing your story, and what it means to be indebted to someone you love.

Factory Theatre Studio – 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON, M5V 2R2

Thurs. Jan. 10 (9:30pm), Fri. Jan. 11 (5:00pm), Sat. Jan. 12 (6:45pm), Sun. Jan. 13 (8:45pm), Tues. Jan. 15 (8:30pm), Thurs. Jan. 17 (9:15pm), Sat. Jan. 19 (6:00pm), Sun. Jan. 20 (3:00pm).

90 minutes

Content Warnings:
This show contains strong language, sexual content, and discussions of mental illness, grief, and coping with losing a child.

General Admission – $15.00
Buy tickets or passes in advance online: or by phone: 416-966-1062

2018 Next Stage Festival Profile: Leila Live!

Interview by Brittany Kay.

It’s easy to fall in love with Leila. She will have you giggling the second you meet her and will probably add herself into your contacts before you leave. If you haven’t seen her Formation video, you are missing out. I had the distinct privilege of talking to the Persian Princess herself about her show Leila Live! at The Next Stage Festival.

Brittany Kay: Who is Leila?

Leila: Hi there! My name is Leila and I am a real-life Persian Princess. I am originally from Tehran, Iran and have been performing my solo shows Love With Leila and A Very Leila Christmas across Canada (and one time in America before that disgusting monster became president) for the past three years. The critics have named me the ‘Persian Judy Garland’ but I self-identify as the ‘Persian Ariana Grande’ (as you will see in my show). People may also recognize me from my hit YouTube videos such as: The Fresh Queen of Tehran, My hijab brings all the boys to the yard, and my own take on Beyonce’s Formation.

My biggest dream—other than being a broadway star and having my own Netflix series—is to date Zac Efron. I think he is so talented, good looking and I believe we have a lot in common so we would be a really good match.

I have been quite active on Tinder lately – I am single and ready to mingle, looking for the right guy! No on has matched with me yet but I am staying optimistic and know that it will happen soon.

BK: What inspired you to create this story?

L: My newest show Leila Live! is my first venture into the world of CABARET! I wanted to start off this new year by trying something completely different. In this show, I am not only acting and telling a story, but I am showcasing a big variety of my talents such as: monologuing, dancing, original singer songwriting, stand up, impressions, sound effects and puppets. That’s right! There is a lot going on in this tight 30 minute show. We are really hoping to find potential agents, producers and boyfriends after one of the performances. If you are interested please email me:

BK: Where else can we see some of your work? I see you have quite the social media following! How did that happen?

L: You know it really just happened naturally. I love to be social and I love to take pictures so Instagram is really the perfect platform for me. I am also on Twitter but I don’t like birds that much. On Instagram I am trying to show what it is like to be a touring performer but also to give advice to my internet friends – #tiptuesday and #wisdomwednesday have been quite popular posts. But none are nearly as fun as #mancrushmonday – I have to start posting about some guys other than Zac Efron though because I think he blocked me but my mother is looking into it for me. You can expect to see some new YouTube videos later this year as well as the launch of my very first album!

BK: Why is this show and more importantly Leila as a person, important for our community today?

L: Earlier this year someone told me that they had never seen a show with a Middle Eastern character who is portrayed as a nice and fun person. That made me really sad!!! We are not just the terrorists and angry cab drivers—we are real human beings with families, personalities, dreams, ambitions and are usually really freaking funny and full of joy. I want people to have fun with me! I want my audience to laugh and feel like they are just hanging out with me and not watching a ‘show’ in a theatre. Like we are friends, because we are friends! And in the end we get to see a little bit of ourselves in one another.

I just finished a run of my show A Very Leila Christmas in Kitchener with an amazing theatre company called Green Light Arts. We packed the theatre for 5 nights and even got the Mayor of Kitchener to come and sing a duet with me. The night was full of so much joy and laughter (and a few tears because let’s face it the holidays aren’t fun and games all the time) but so many people said that they have never smiled so much, that they didn’t know they could laugh so hard and that this kind of laughing was therapeutic. I mean, what is better than that really?

BK: Talk to me about Leilas Girlfriends?

L: Leila’s Girlfriends is one of my favourite projects I have ever done. It was a partnership program with the Immigrant Working Centre and the Good Shepherd in Hamilton. I hosted a storytelling workshop for newcomer women to help them share their own stories of being in Canada. The ones who felt comfortable enough joined me on stage for a performance on International Women’s Day. It was so empowering to watch these beautiful women stand up in front of sold out audiences and share their voice for the first time. I had shivers each night and had to hold my tears back. Some of these women are still very good friends of mine.

BK: Why is The Next Stage Festival the perfect platform for you and your work?

L: Well this is quite literally the next stage for me. This is the first time that I am performing a cabaret show. I am trying out never before seen material in a different style than I am used to and I get to do it 12 nights in a row! My mother and I have been rehearsing this showcase in our living room for a few months now and we are so excited to share it with an audience.

BK: Are there any other shows that you are excited to see in the festival?

L: My friend Christel Bartelse is performing her new clown show The Surprise in the same venue as me (Factory Antechamber). We did a Double Bill of our shows Love With Leila and All KIDding Aside last year at the Toronto Centre of the Arts and I am so happy to share a space with her again. She is so talented and funny and she has the most beautiful hair. Really, go check out her ginger locks – they are gorgeous.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

L: My Instagram account on their phone.

BK: Anything else we need to know?

L: My venue is the warmest one in the entire building… so… that should be enough of a reason to buy a ticket.

Leila Live!

Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Written and Performed by me (Leila)
Directed by my mother (Farideh)

Real life Persian Princess seeking a real guy who is trusting, healthy, and has his Canadian citizenship. Must enjoy authentic middle eastern cuisine, hypnotic dance moves, and little bit of fluff and scruff. No smoking, drinking, or drugging allowed! If my parents don’t like you chances are I will 😉 Swipe right for singing, dancing, acting, joking, and modeling my me (Leila).

Factory Antechamber
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

January 3rd – 14th
January 10th – 5:55pm
January 11th – 8:40pm
January 12th – 8:40pm
January 13th – 5:25pm
January 14th – 3:55pm


fb: /badgirlleila
t: @_badgirl_leila
ig: @_badgirl_leila

NSTF Artists take it to the “Next Stage” in 2018

As one year ends and a new one begins, The Next Stage Festival is a time that we always look forward to over here at In the Greenroom. The festival offers a space for the Toronto theatre community to gather, re-connect, re-charge, and re-inspire themselves as we collectively re-focus on community, development, and growth in this first wintery month of the new year. What an incredible GIFT because DAMN it’s real cold and dreary out there and we all need a little reason to leave the house and RE-CONNECT with art, artists, ideas and create the space to experience something new!

We had the pleasure of connecting with this year’s NSTF artists to discuss their work, the importance of the festival, and we asked them to reflect on their hopes/goals/mantras for themselves as artists and for the Toronto arts community for 2018.

We hope this may help to inspire you as the year kicks off. Go out, see something new at Next Stage, and let us know what your hopes/goals/mantras are in 2018 in the comments below, or by connecting with us on facebook, twitter and instagram!

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR beauties. See you in that sweet sweet heated beer tent!

– Hallie

Hallie Seline
Co-founder & Editor in Chief

In the Greenroom

Good Morning, Viet Mom

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Good Morning, Viet Mom is a hilarious and moving solo show by me, the devilishly handsome Franco Nguyen, that explores family created through my stand-up sets and storytelling circles. From our sold-out run at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, we’re taking it to the “next stage” with a revamped production including a new script and additional design elements and a larger creative team.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Next Stage audiences are extra crazy and dedicated. They head out in the dead of winter to see theatre…and to drink beer in a tent. They’re essentially winter camping. That fiery spirit is so important for any community. It allows for inspiration, conversation and it keeps things lit.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We’re looking forward to new voices in Toronto’s arts community. We want to see more work by and for Toronto’s unseen communities. Work that pushes the boundaries of what Toronto, Arts and Community mean. You know, stuff that’s accessible to people who work in factories and at McDonald’s. And people who regularly check World Star Hip Hop online.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

To be more honest and present, and also to make that paper, baby!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re looking forward to seeing the work of our #NSTFunny partners – The Harold Experience and Sex T-Rex’s SwordPlay

fb: /Soaring-Skies-Collective

For show dates, times and tickets for Good Morning, Viet Mom, click here. 

The Harold Experience

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Harold Experience is a completely improvised comedy show featuring some of Canada’s best improvisers and produced by Toronto’s newest improv company, The Assembly. Using suggestions and stories from the audience, the performers create an entire show with intertwining plots that come together for a satisfying conclusion. The show is based on one of improv’s oldest forms, The Harold. Typically, this form comes with some hesitance because it’s so difficult to perform, but our cast is up to the challenge of pulling it off. We’re taking it to the “next stage” by upping the polish while keeping it fun, funny, and interesting for general audiences.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is important because it’s the first big show for The Assembly. The Assembly is less than a year old and has made such great strides in these past months – starting with a collective of improv teams, moving into offering classes, and now, producing a show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Showcasing our art form and continuing to legitimize improv (and specifically this type of improv) is incredibly important to us and our community, and being part of Next Stage really confirms that.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see improv (specifically, long-form improv)! Improv exists within its own community, and our brand of improv (long-form) exists within its own even smaller community. It would be great to see more of long-form and all types of improv throughout the entire arts community.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Major goals for The Assembly include continuing to grow our classes (we currently have seven classes with almost 90 students), continuing to develop and showcase talent at our monthly shows, moving into new spaces in the city (we offer classes in three different locations and have shows at three other locations), and persevering as a very young, very niche improv company!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re so looking forward to seeing Franco Nguyen’s Good Morning, Viet Mom (Franco is actually a member of The Assembly on the incredible team TallboyzIIMen and his show is an amazing mix of funny and touching with really cool audiovisual elements) and Sex T-Rex’s Swordplay (Sex T-Rex is so funny and their productions have their signature cinematic style, which is so cool and unique).

fb: /theassemblyimprov
ig: @theassemblyimprov
t: @TheAssemblyTO

For show dates, times and tickets for The Harold Experience, click here. 

Birthday Balloon

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Birthday Balloon was first commissioned by Rising Tide Theatre Company in Newfoundland in 2016 and presented as a part of their festival in Trinity, NL. I read Steve Cochrane’s play and felt it absolutely needed to be done off the island, on the mainland we’ll say. I felt there was an audience here for it and a need for it to be done and so I decided to produce it. The Next Stage Theatre Festival felt like the perfect place to do such a thing. The NSTF provides a perfect platform to produce a new work. It is an extremely respected festival which provides an enormous amount of support to companies, especially ones like my new venture, Mauzy May Productions. The application fee alone of $30 instead of hundreds of dollars was such an appealing factor. The NSTF makes it possible to produce works of a high-caliber that will be seen by your respected peers because it is an extension of the Toronto Fringe which is such an institution in the Toronto community. The NSTF makes the prospect of producing affordable theatre quite plausible. The NSTF has made it possible to present Birthday Balloon with the hopes of getting an opportunity be programmed by an already established theatre company.

Birthday Balloon is a universal story of loss and perseverance, yet very specific to Newfoundland and its new identity after an economic crisis that threatened the very existence of rural NL. After the fall of the cod fishery and the cod moratorium, rural Newfoundland, as we knew it, changed drastically. We saw men, many men, leave their homes and head off to Fort McMurray, AB to try to make a living for their families. This came at a cost to many families. Through the lens of a dying marriage after a tremendous loss, Birthday Balloon tells the story of the enormous cost to one family.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

As stated above, the NSTF provides a tremendous opportunity for artists. The entire vibe, if I can call it that, since being accepted into the festival has been nothing but support and encouragement. In a word: community. My company and this production have been embraced by the Fringe and many other theatre people and companies simply by association and the festival hasn’t even started yet! I have felt guidance as an artist and received help throughout the past few months from the NSTF company, which obviously helps me, as a producer, feel really strong and positive about the production I am presenting. The sense of community with all the shows is tangible. It’s present. And it’s comforting. We are all in this together, as a community, and we want to present something special together to the Toronto theatre community at large.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

To be honest, I would like to see even more affordable opportunities, like NSTF, for independent artists, for new voices, for groundbreaking material to have a place to be seen. With NSTF, for example, it costs an audience member $15 to see a show of a high-caliber. Outside of their own personal expenses, it costs a producer $30 to have a venue, a well-known venue in the city, to present their piece. It’s a win-win situation! People in the city and outside the city get to take a chance on seeing some culture without breaking the bank. This is always appealing for an audience member and it provides so much exposure for many that wouldn’t get it otherwise.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Be brave, tell your stories the way you want to tell them. Tell the stories that you want to hear. Don’t wait for the chance, keep making it happen. Give a voice to women, a voice that is often not heard.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing Rumspringa Break… for two big reasons! My dear friend, Matt Murray (who wrote Myth of the Ostrich that I was in in the 2015 NSTF) wrote it AND my director, Steven Gallagher (who also directed Myth!) is directing it!

For show dates, times and tickets for Birthday Balloon, click here. 


Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

JONNO is a fictionalized retelling of a true sexual assault case that shocked Canadians back in 2014, when the news first broke about a beloved radio host’s violent and predatory behaviour towards women. The play was first produced by Echo Theatre at the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. When we initially decided to bring it to Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, we were a little worried that the story might be a little dated, and that the play’s angry and aggressive retelling of the assault might do nothing more than re-open old wounds. Little did we know that, in a matter of weeks, the media would be flooded with new sexual assault accusations and #metoo stories from countless women around the world. Our Next Stage production of JONNO isn’t just about one man and the women he assaulted— it’s about how we as a society seem to keep letting these incidents happen, and what we are going to do to hold each other accountable and move forward.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

JONNO was a difficult play to stage — both because of the show’s content, and because of today’s heated political climate. And yet, those are also the same reasons that made us feel certain that this show needed to produced HERE and NOW. Being a part of the Next Stage Festival gave us access to the resources and support that we needed to bring this work to life in a safe and accessible manner. It’s thanks to festivals like these, and thanks to the fabulous staff hard at work behind the scenes, that new and challenging pieces of theatre like this one are given the space they need to thrive.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Theatre is great when it is bold, innovative, and urgent — but, more importantly, it is great when it kickstarts a conversation and creates a dialogue with its audiences. We are really excited to hear what people think about JONNO. We know that we as artists are fallible: we don’t expect everyone to love the work that we produce, and we don’t expect everyone to agree with the stance that we take on a particular subject. But when we create avenues for further discussion, what begins as simply criticism can morph into an opportunity for growth and change. Then, instead of simply telling or retelling a story, our art is actually paving the way for real progress. (If only EVERY production had a beer tent for its audiences to stay and chat after the show!)

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re very excited for that F word by SaMel Tanz! It promises to be another bold, dynamic, and fearless exploration of feminism, performed by a cast of talented and diverse female artists.

fb: /rabbitinahatproductions
t: @RabbitinHatProd

For show dates, times and tickets for JONNO, click here. 

Leila Live!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Hello, my name is Leila! I am a real-life Persian Princess and have been touring my plays Love With Leila and A Very Leila Christmas across Canada for the past three years. With Leila Live! I am presenting my very first cabaret show where I will perform monologues, dance numbers, original songs, stand up and much more.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

What a gift it is to start a new year by performing a new piece of work amongst other talented and inspiring artists?! For me, this is such a wonderful opportunity to push myself and grow – 12 nights in a row!

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I want to see more diverse artists in leading roles (and I want to see myself in a big musical… maybe the will cast me as a Schuyler sister in Hamilton??)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I am currently reading ‘the subtle art of not giving a f*ck’ – I want to do that.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing my friend Christel Bartelse as Ginger in The Surprise – also in the antechamber space. This is the second time in the past year we are sharing a venue together!

fb: /badgirlleila
ig: @_badgirl_leila

For show dates, times and tickets for Leila Live!, click here.

Moonlight After Midnight

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Moonlight After Midnight is a two-person love story about a couple who meet in a hotel room. They begin to role-play a relationship, but even within their play-acting, nothing is as it seems. As multiple layers of reality play out against a shifting landscape of time and space, a puzzle emerges about love, loss, and who we really are to one another. We hope the Next Stage Festival brings the show to the hearts and minds of a an audience beyond those who already comfortably attend the fringe.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Unlike the Toronto Fringe, the Next Stage Festival is curated. For those that love independently produced and created theatre, but who are uncertain about taking a chance on a fringe show in which the entire program is selected by lottery, the Next Stage offers a fantastic 10-show roster of amazing productions. For the 12-day length of the festival, the arts community of Toronto can focus on this handful of shows that represent the very best of what’s happening in the world of independent theatre.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Intrigue, entertain, and excite by providing a window into the universal truths and enigmas inherent in the human experience.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m really excited to see Birthday Balloon. It looks like it’ll be a well-written & acted piece of drama about a couple dealing with, well, being a couple – which is to say: our kind of show.

fb: /concretedrops
t: @concretedrops
ig: @concretedrops

For show dates, times and tickets to Moonlight After Midnight, click here. 

Rumspringa Break!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Rumspringa Break!  has been in development for two years. In 2016 we workshopped and presented the first 45 minutes of the show at the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College. In the Spring of 2017 we returned to Sheridan with a completed draft for a second workshop, followed by a staged reading at Theatre Passe Muraille as part of Sheridan’s “Off Sheridan” initiative. In the Summer of 2017 we had the opportunity to spend ten days at Theatre St John’s for their Newfoundland and Labrador Musical Theatre Writers Retreat, allowing us to incorporate what we’d learned from the Off Sheridan presentation. We are now excited to take our show to the “Next Stage” at the festival, stepping out from behind the music stands for the first fully staged production of Rumspringa Break!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

This festival truly gives artists an opportunity to take their work to the next level. The Toronto Fringe provides a vital platform and support system that allows us to focus on the work and to present our piece in an affordable way. When trying to produce indie theatre at a grassroots level, having the support of an organization like the Toronto Fringe is such a help. It also benefits the community because it provides theatre-goers an accessible chance to experience quality theatre for minimal expense in the coldest months of winter.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see Canadian theatre companies continue their support of new works by Canadian musical theatre creators. We also hope the audience base for new Canadian musicals continues to grow.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

We are devoted to telling compelling stories that promote compassion and empathy. We hope to reach out to audiences who may not be familiar with contemporary musical theatre, introduce them to the art form, and let them fall in love with the medium.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We are excited for the wide variety of shows presented at the Next Stage Festival, in particular Birthday Balloon directed by the brilliant Steven Gallagher (who also directed Rumspringa Break!) and Leila Live! by the hilarious Izad Etemadi who has previously collaborated with Colleen & Akiva.

t: @ColleenAndAkiva, @mattymurmur
#RumspringaBreak #NSTF

For show dates, times and tickets to Rumspringa Break!, click here. 

The Surprise

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Surprise is an immersive clown experience where Ginger, my clown, throws a party for a surprise guest, and you, the audience are all guests at the party. This is my 5th solo show, and first time working with Dora Award winner Andy Massingham. Despite 15 years as a working performer, it’s my first full-length clown show (And the only clown show in the festival!) The Surprise explores the universal experience of celebrating a birthday, as well as the fear we all have in making another trip around the sun, and the expectation of where we think we should be with every age. This show was originally created in 2011 as a birthday present to myself. It ran as a ten minute piece. After performing it at a few cabarets, I really wanted to expand it into a longer show and Next Stage felt like the perfect festival. The ante-chamber venue is so intimate, which makes it really fun.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

I think the Next Stage Festival is important because it gives artists opportunities to take their work to the next level, whether it’s a new piece or idea you are trying out, or an already existing show that now gets further development. I feel fortunate that I get 12 shows during this run, to really hone my piece and myself as an artist. Also, I think the winter months can be tough in Toronto. This is something that brings the community together for 12 days and theatre warms everyone hearts. And the heated steam whistle tent is a fun hangout.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I think a new year is always exciting because artists are either busy creating, or taking some time to percolate new ideas. I would love to continue to see fantastic provocative work, from many diverse artists. I’d love to see more collaborations from different arts communities. A dancer teaming up with a comic or some cool project like that. I hope to see women really pushing the envelope and I think social and political issues will continue to be tackled. Most importantly in the growing trend of Netflix, and right now extremely cold weather, I’d just like to see people continue to support each other and the arts. Just get out and see stuff. Art, now, is more important than ever. So many issues to tackle, or a much-needed escape from the world.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I’ve been so busy creating and performing over the past years that I would actually like to take some time to rest and generate some new ideas. I want to write more… just put pen to paper daily. My goal is to continue to perform the solo shows I’ve already created, to collaborate with an artist or artists I haven’t worked with before, and to continue to go out and support theatre. And to be kind to myself and be proud of what I’ve created. I need to be a kinder artist to myself. This feels like a big resolution.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m most looking forward to my sidekick, double bill buddy Izad Etamadi in Leila Live! We’ve been super supportive of each other, and I’ve seen other Leila shows that are a riot. I’m happy to share the venue with him and can’t wait to see his piece. I’m also excited for SwordPlay because I couldn’t get a ticket during it’s sold out run at Fringe. So I’m so happy I can get a chance to see it now. Really, I’m going to see as many shows as I can.

t: @cbartelse

For show dates, times and tickets to The Surprise, click here.


Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

SwordPlay is a swashbuckling physical comedy set in a retro video game. After performing this show in six cities across the country and earning five-star reviews and multiple comedy and theatre awards, we are so excited to take the show to the next level. We’ve given ourselves a little extra breathing room with a 75-minute time slot, spruced up the props, and added in a whole new scene, more jokes, and more swords for the Extended Cut of this fan-favourite show. 2018 marks Sex T-Rex’s 10th anniversary as a comedy troupe, and we’re thrilled to kick off this landmark year at the Next Stage Festival!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Sex T-Rex has participated in a total of 18 Fringe Festivals over the past decade. The Fringe has helped us cultivate our style and given us a platform for our unusual, modern approach to theatre. After all the support the Fringe offers to self-producing artists, the Next Stage Festival provides a vital platform for artists to be able to develop their work even further. This festival also offers the community an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of all that rad theatre, at affordable prices, and during the frigid time of year when laughs and heartwarming art come most in handy.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

It’s such an exciting time for the Toronto arts community right now. We’re not shying away from the important issues, and we’re seeing our art really make a difference and reach new eyes and ears. We can’t wait to see what the city’s artists have up their sleeves for the year ahead, but if Next Stage’s lineup is any indication of the excellent variety of theatre we can expect in 2018, then we’re in good shape: you’ve got your finger-on-the-pulse, issue-driven theatre (JONNO); cultural voices in storytelling (Good Morning, Viet Mom); brilliant improv comedy (The Harold Experience); a rich, layered musical (Rumspringa Break!); mind-bending romantic comedy (Moonlight After Midnight); moving drama (Birthday Balloon); stunning dance (That “F”Word); hilariously inventive one-person shows in the Antechamber (Leila Live! and The Surprise); and of course you’ve got goof-ass comedy like SwordPlay with hidden feminist and LGBTQ-positive messages (shhh, don’t tell anyone there’s some depth to our work too.)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

In 2018, Sex T-Rex’s goal is to reach as many new audiences as possible and to lay the foundations for our first non-festival tour. Winning the B.C. Touring Council Award at the 2017 Vancouver Fringe gives us a huge leg up in this goal and will take us to the West Coast this Spring to start promoting Sex T-Rex to theatres and schools. Meanwhile, we’re pursuing fresh audiences closer to home with our new show for 2018, which weaves together three short plays under the theme of CRIMES (a film noire, a heist and a buddy cop story) and will be more digestible for sketch festivals than any of our previous, hour-long plays. And finally, alongside all of this, we’re breaking into the comic convention circuit with our delightfully nerdy improv hit D&D Live! – a staged, improvised game of the world’s most popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Our resolution is to eat less red meat and our mantra is “Calidi Lapis Iocus” (Rock-Hot Jokes).

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re most excited to see our pals from the Toronto Improv Community rock The Harold Experience! We’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a lot of the fine folks in The Assembly before, and can tell you audiences are in for some guaranteed laughs.

fb: /sextrexcomedy
ig: @sextrexcomedy
t: @sextrex

For show dates, times and tickets to SwordPlay, click here.

That “F” Word

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

that “F” word is an invigorating and comedic performance that fearlessly explores the struggles of feminism, specifically gender, class, race, body image and tradition. These issues are brought to life through a fusion of Contemporary, Latin and Hip Hop dance forms. We have taken our production to the next level by having a larger cast of dancers, exploring deeper into the themes of our show with new choreography and movement, further developed the transitions between ideas and improved the emotion and intention in all the work.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Festival provided us with a theatre platform and challenged us to become more interdisciplinary. It gave us artists the opportunity to build upon and improve a previous production and the opportunity to reach a new and larger audience. It is important for the community because it offers entertainment with powerful messaging right at the beginning of the year when there is usually nothing to see during this slow, cold time of year. It gets audiences out and about and increases tourism in the city.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Our hope for 2018 would be more funding for the arts community paired with better integration between the different genre of arts. Having festivals like the Next Stage and Toronto Fringe connecting different companies expands the community and everyone’s audiences.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?


We have a voice, the experience and the talent and we are ready to share all of it with the world. In 2018 we are going to claim space, share what is exclusive to us with everyone.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
The Harold Experience – we love comedy/improvisation
JONNO – similar theme to our show, different perspective

t: @sameltanz
ig: @sameltanz

The Next Stage Theatre Festival hosted by The Toronto Fringe

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is the premiere winter theatre event in the city. Produced by the Toronto Fringe, Next Stage is a platform for past Fringe artists to take groundbreaking work to the next level – and a gathering place for discerning culture lovers in the city.

While some of the shows have appeared at previous Fringe Festivals, most are new works by established Fringe artists who have demonstrated the passion and tenacity to take their work to the next stage.

Factory Theatre
125 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON

January 3-14, 2018

Tickets & Info:




In the Greenroom’s Next Stage Theatre Festival Favourites

We couldn’t think of a better way to start 2017 on a high note than with a jam-packed festival of new theatre, dance, music, storytelling and improv; watching artists take their work to the ‘next stage’; and, of course, some good beer tent times re-connecting to old friends and meeting new ones!

We wanted to share some of In the Greenroom’s Festival Favourites, with the hopes of inspiring you as you begin your final NSTF scheduling. We’ve chosen something different, something new, something bloody and something true… maybe.

Be sure to share your favourite festival moments!

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Go to MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS if you want: something different… completely different!

It’s hard to find just one word to describe MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS. Wild, weird and wonderful, this show is bold, hilarious, absurd, athletic and completely fun! There’s nostalgia. There’s glitter. There’s incredible “wow-did-they-just-do-that” dancing, blow-up props, Garden State references, singalongs, and bags of milk! Yup, it’s a total trip and the more we think back on everything we experienced during MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS, the more we smile.

**We also recommend reading the program note on the work by choreographer Alyssa Martin either before or after for an even deeper appreciation of the piece.

Join dance-theatre renegades Rock Bottom Movement for a hallucinatory romp through millennial nostalgia and classic indie film. Choreographer Alyssa Martin conjures a gleefully glitter-soaked pop-culture mashup featuring 90’s singer-songwriter karaoke and athletic dance breaks.

Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

January 11 at 06:45 PM
January 12 at 07:30 PM
January 14 at 09:00 PM
January 15 at 05:15 PM


Something New: Songbuster, an improvised musical


Go to Songbuster if you want: something new… every time!

Songbuster, an improvised musical is perfect if you’re looking for heart-wrenchingly hilarious ballads about _____ (You fill in the blank!) At this fully improvised musical, audience members get to choose the subject matter of the play! On opening we witnessed an entire saga about comicon that we won’t soon forget. We especially loved the improvised flamenco duet… Enough said!

Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour-long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM


Something Bloody: Blood Ties


Go to Blood Ties if you want: something bloody…fun & musical!

Witty, charming and funny dialogue, plus beautiful songwriting with clear and engaging narrative sung throughout, Blood Ties is a bloody fun musical. Hats off to their thoughtful and clever costume design and a special shout-out to performer Jeremy Lapalme!

Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town to celebrate they are instead faced with the task of cleaning up the considerable mess left behind. This flagship musical show by Dora-nominated team Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston has previously been a hit at SummerWorks, the Edinburgh Fringe, and on BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Based on true events.

Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

January 12 at 05:15 PM buy tickets
January 13 at 10:00 PM buy tickets
January 14 at 02:00 PM buy tickets
January 15 at 07:00 PM buy tickets


Something True (or False… either way there’s Spam!): Two Truths And A Lie


Go to Two Truths and a Lie if you want: something true… or false! Regardless, someone is going home with a can of SPAM after this truly feel-good, laugh-out-loud, intimate storytelling show, so how could you miss it?

Though filled with lies and liars, Two Truths and a Lie promises to be filled with hilarious laugh-out-loud moments for a truly feel-good time in a cozy venue. These three talented storytellers transport us to horrifying yet still somehow endearing moments in their lives, and whether you can figure out who the ultimate liar is or not, a can of Spam is up for grabs, so… who wouldn’t want that?!

Each night of the festival, Graham Isador (Situational Anarchy), Helder Brum (Born with a Tale), and Rhiannon Archer (Life Records) will regale audiences with three unbelievable stories…one of which is completely made up. After the critical successes of their honest and funny solo shows, these veterans of Toronto’s storytelling scene are coming together to make you laugh while lying to your face.

Factory Theatre Antechamber (125 Bathurst St.)

January 11 at 05:55 PM
January 12 at 08:40 PM
January 13 at 06:40 PM
January 14 at 05:40 PM
January 15 at 04:25 PM


We hope this inspires you to kick off your weekend NSTFestival schedule planning and be sure to see something you wouldn’t normally! This list is just the beginning.

There’s 10 shows that have each been selected to offer something different. Be bold. See something on a whim! That’s what the festival spirit is all about. You never know what you might be surprised by.

Happy Closing, NSTF! We’ll cheers you in the beer tent!